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Witnesses Dispute Official Death Toll from Khaldiya Incident

by Dahr Jamail

Eyewitness accounts directly contradict the Pentagon's report of Iraqi civilians and American military dead in Tuesday's roadside bombing.

Khaldiya, Iraq; Jan. 28, 2004 – Yesterday in this small city 95 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad, a powerful roadside bomb exploded killing a disputed number of US soldiers, whose companions then appear to have opened fire on nearby Iraqi civilians. However, reported numbers of dead US soldiers and Iraqis vary widely.

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In a Central Command press release for the incident, the US Military said that three soldiers from the US 82nd Airborne Brigade’s "Task Force All American" died in the blast from an improvised explosive device, and that one Iraqi died at the scene. The press release also states that one soldier and several Iraqis sustained injuries.

Witnesses at the scene told a very different story. Several witnesses claimed to have seen a dozen American corpses, and a local hospital official said no less than six Iraqi civilians died in the incident.

Dr. Rayid Al-Ani, the Assistant Director of the Ramadi Hospital where Iraqi casualties were taken, stated that three civilian corpses were brought to the morgue at the hospital along with five wounded civilians.

Dr. Al-Ani said, "Of the five wounded Iraqis brought here, three have died. One is now in the operating room, and the fifth man is upstairs suffering from three gun shots by the Americans."

Mohammed Hammad, 36 years-old, is recovering in the hospital with gun shots in his face, chest, and right leg. He said, "I was riding in a taxi going from Ramadi to Khaldiya when a US patrol was hit by a roadside bomb. Then the soldiers just started shooting everywhere."

Several witnesses claimed to have seen a dozen American corpses, and a local hospital official said no less than six Iraqi civilians died in the incident.

The driver of his taxi, Hammad Narif Ermil, married and father of seven, was killed by American gunfire, according to Mohammed Hammad.

Ali (last name withheld), an Iraqi Policeman who witnessed the incident, said, "I saw twelve dead US soldiers. They put them in black body bags and flew them out by helicopters."

One of the Iraqis killed was driving a small bus, the remains of which sat nearby riddled with bullet holes. Ali said, "We tried to help get the man out of the bus, but the Americans wouldn’t let us. He died because they wouldn’t let us get him out."

Mohammed (last name withheld), a 25 year-old Iraqi who lives near the scene, said, "I saw twelve US soldiers killed. Body parts were everywhere. There were also at least five injured."

A man who also lives near the scene of the incident, Abdul Ahkman, said, "I saw twelve US soldiers killed and flown away by their helicopters. We want the Americans to leave. They said they would bring us freedom, but they have only brought us death and suffering."

BBC and Agence France-Presse both reported three US deaths, with one critically wounded. BBC and Associated Press reported that 2 Iraqi civilians were killed, while AFP reported that US soldiers killed one Iraqi and wounded another.

Also on Tuesday, US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a press conference, "We believe we've got sufficient capability to maintain a reasonable security level in the country."

"What we've done in the last 60 days is really taken them down," a senior military official said on January 23, speaking of the insurgency to the Washington Post. "We've dismantled the Baghdad piece. We've dismantled the Mosul piece. I'm not saying we've taken down the Fallujah-Ramadi piece, but we've hammered it."

The Post report went on to quote a Tikrit area batallion commander as saying: "The enemy doesn't have much left. They are desperate and flailing."

Coalition Press Information Center (CPIC) has not returned phone calls requesting further information about the incident. Tuesday’s incident here brought the official US death toll in Iraq to 517. Experts have found it nearly impossible to count the number of Iraqi deaths. Estimates of civilian deaths since the invasion approach 10,000.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Dahr Jamail is a contributing journalist.

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